It’s that time of year again...no not March Madness, it’s that time when someone inevitably writes the “oh yeah this Damian Lillard character is REALLY freaking good” article to remind us all that, yeah the dude is really freaking good.
With CJ McCollum down for an unknown amount of time due to a Popliteus strain in his left knee, it wasn’t exactly a stretch of the imagination to assume that Lillard would pick up the slack a bit. To expect him to crank out some of his best and most efficient performances of his career while also making it look incredibly simple- I don’t think anyone was quite ready to go that far.
While we’re certainly watching small sample size theater, what Lillard has done has been worthy of the hyperbole. Missing the team’s only other consistent all levels scoring option, opponent game plans shifted to taking Lillard away at all costs. While he has been absolutely explosive with his scoring (and ridiculously efficient) it’s been Lillard’s passing that has caught my eye more than anything.
It’s not just the gaudy assist numbers that jump off the screen here- it’s how Lillard is getting them. However, let’s take a look at the incredible numbers that he’s put together over the last couple of games.
Drawing the attention of four, sometimes five defenders, Lillard is getting downhill into the teeth of the defense - getting a full commit and then kicking it out to WIDE OPEN teammates and those teammates are delivering.
Lillard isn’t pounding the ball a ton to set up one move, it’s often an above the break pick and roll and then a between the legs take off- not very different from his usual attack - where it varies is how and where he’s passing. Dame is taking opponents a step deeper into the paint and all of a sudden he’s discovered and seemingly mastered the art of the one-handed pass.
Lillard’s ability to completely manipulate the defense was on full display against the Indiana Pacers. This may be my favorite pass of the season by Lillard for a number of reasons- so let’s take it step by step.
First of all he has all five defenders looking his direction and trying to keep him out of the middle of the floor (he gets there). The patience he exudes here while pulling the string of the defense - to clear the space in the paint necessary to get to his spot shows how wells he sees the floor and anticipates what is going to happen. Then the willingness to get flashy when it’s actually necessary to finish the play off with a no-look wrap pass to the back-cutting Zach Collins.
We’ve all come to expect that when it’s needed, Dame/Lillard Time can be put into effect with the quickness. What’s been great about Lillard’s recent level of play is that he’s so far ahead of opponents as a creator- a true floor general- that he hasn’t needed to take over the game. It’s only afterwards when you look at the boxscore and see that he’s got 30+ points and 10+ assists that you realize just how incredible his performance was.
This is looking a lot like the final form of Damian Lillard- his Super Saiyan takeover. his mastery of the offense as both a scorer from all levels AND his ability to manipulate the defense with his passing has made him a near unstoppable force. As we sit back and watch, we should all appreciate just how good he has become. For someone at the top of their craft to be so good that it goes overlooked regularly typically means they operate on another plane of competition. It’s not often you get to have it happen in your own backyard.